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OPINION MAY 7 , 2001
Talkin' Smack: Mac Theater

The missing piece of the creative process is starting to come together

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

Response to my last column shows that Mac users certainly have not stopped believing that we live in an amazing period in the history of technology. And, although we sometimes have differences of opinion with the mother ship and qualms with the mother ship's chip maker, rarely does a day pass when we fail to recognize what an amazing thing Apple has done for us in making the desktop computer a reality and in doing it so right.

Of course, during the Interjobsnium (otherwise known as the Dark Ages), there were some pretty major blunders. We had the IIvx and IIvi, the entire Performa line, the fire-breathing PowerBooks, the dyslexic Newton and, worst of all, that ad campaign that touted above all else the Mac's ability to emulate Windows. But those days are gone, and now the Mac is once again dictating what a computer should be, with a particularly clear focus and the dominating technologies in the creative arena—audio, video and graphic design in print and on the Web.

We're on the verge of a couple more technological revolutions here as well. One of these, DVD authoring, is quite well known by now. The price is still high, but the promise of the Mac as a beginning to end video capture, editing and output system is rapidly becoming much more ... uh ... factual. There are now several DVD-R drives at the $999 price point, all of which are designed to cooperate with Mac hardware and software. And the prices of all digital devices are coming down.

And that's all nice and important and everything. But what I've been drooling about lately are technologies not typically associated with the Mac and usually targeted to a very limited market, namely presentations—you know, Microsoft PowerPoint and all that. Now, I couldn't care less about Microsoft or PowerPoint or making bar charts to show off my division's performance at the quarterly company meeting. What I do care about are the devices these presentation folk get to use to show off how well their divisions are doing.

We don't usually pay attention to the goings on of this market. But as we sit here squawking about capturing and editing video and, more recently, burning it onto a DVD, we haven't been paying much attention to how we ultimately view our work. And this is where the presentation market has left the rest of us in the dust.

What's the best display you've seen running on the Mac? The Apple Cinema Display? Man, I wouldn't waste my time. Sure, it's pretty and everything, and the picture's real nice, but it's too tiny. So what about those big plasma displays? No way. First of all, the picture is garbage. Second, they're incredibly expensive. Third, you can't exactly bring them around with you, since they weigh about a million pounds. And, fourth, they're still too tiny for me.

See, I've had a taste of what displays should be, and, for me, there's no going back. The answer is a digital projector. Imagine working on your Mac on a 156-inch screen (or larger). Or previewing your video work. Or watching DVDs. Or playing Unreal Tournament. I've done it. In fact, I've even installed one of those huge pulldown screens in my house.

Over the last couple of years, the technologies in projectors have surpassed everything else on the market. Today you can get a digital projector that's bright and whose color is magnificent and whose resolution is, simply, startling. They've come down in size (now down to around three pounds for the smallest models), and, more importantly, they've come down in price. Some you can get for less than the price of a Cinema Display, $2,000 to $3,000. The great ones are more in the $6,000 to $10,000 range. And the ones that God watches run upwards of $15,000. Still not exactly in the consumer niche (and even up there for professionals), projectors will, nevertheless, be coming down even further in the coming years as manufacturers target the home theater market.

And guess who gets to benefit from this. That's right, Mac users. See, presentation people are a smart lot, despite their apparent affection for PowerPoint. They tend to use PowerBooks extensively. And, since the people who buy projectors use Macs, the manufacturers have tailored their machines for use on our little platform as well. In fact, there's not a digital projector on the market right now that won't run on a Macintosh, and many include extra features that allow you to enhance your projector more with Mac software and peripheral support.

2001 was supposed to have been the year when digital projectors were aggressively targeted toward more general markets. Owing to a couple core development glitches (especially in the area or cheap lamp bulbs), this has been pushed back a little bit. In the meantime, projector manufacturers have continued to innovate to bring brightness and richness of color to the projected image, and they've quite succeeded. What's more, these things are going to keep getting better and smaller even as their prices come down.

Apple gave us the core hardware and operating system. A huge number of hardware and software developers gave us the creative applications and output devices that made digital creative work possible. But we've always been slighted in the display arena. But digital projectors are changing this. They're making it not only possible to enjoy working on your Mac, but to enjoy watching what you've created on your Mac. And so I offer you Mac psychofanatics out there something else to drool about. Watch for it. It's not a long way off.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of the Creative Mac, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion and Synthetik Studio Artist WWUGs; and executive producer of Creative Mac, Digital Media Designer, Digital Pro Sound, Digital Webcast, Plug-in Central, Presentation Master, ProAudio.net and Video Systems sites. All are part of the Digital Media Net family of online industry hubs.

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